LAGUINDINGAN Airport in Cagayan de Oro began operations last week amidst hopes that it will become a gateway to Mindanao, but the trade has its reservations.
The 7.8 billion-peso (US$181.4 million), 7,184m2 international standard airport operates on a daytime schedule with flights carried over from the existing Cagayan de Oro City Airport in Lumbia.
ZestAir launched flights from Manila to Laguindingan Airport on June 15, flying thrice daily.
There are currently no filings for international flights out of Laguindingan in the foreseeable future, according to the Civil Aeronautics Board, but Department of Tourism (DoT) assistant secretary, Benito Bengzon Jr, said: “We see Laguindingan Airport as a gateway into Mindanao, and we expect it will get international operations by 2014. The international passenger terminal will be ready to accommodate up to about 1.6 million passengers a year.”
DoT projects that Cagayan de Oro will become the Philippines’ sixth most important gateway by 2016.
However, not all were enthusiastic about the new facility. Erlinda Tan, operations manager, JLT Travel & Tours, pointed out: “Lumbia Airport is 13km away from the city, Laguindingan is about 30km.”
Tan noted this lengthened travel time for transfers and would increase overall costs. The distance could be a problem for visitors hoping to transfer to other destinations if flights were delayed. For instance, the daily ferry service from Cagayan de Oro to Camiguin leaves at 08.00.
Furthermore, Cagayan de Oro’s tourism reputation remains affected by security issues far away. “The main problem remains with the travel advisories issued in the EU, US, and Australia,” says Willy Alcantara, local tours supervisor at House of Travel.
“If something is happening in Basilan or Jolo, even if they're so far away, all Mindanao is affected, because the advisory is (for all of) Mindanao. That's a setback for the industry that can kill businesses.”